Cambrians for Thoughtful Development

Afflicting the comfortable since 2002

This web page was last modified August 4, 2012 at 4:19 PM.

New! Cambria’s very own weather station is up and running. Get current weather conditions 24 hours a day.

PWS Weather and CWOP are now compiling data from the Cambria station.

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Biologists are saying this is the first known instance of Badgers allowing a venomous snake to continue living in their sett.

Important Dates and Times

Corn Ethanol Subsidy Expired Today

Congress fails to renew before recess

December 28th, 2011 – As reported in the Detroit News, the increasingly controversial Federal ethanol fuel of 43 cents per gallon was allowed to lapse after 30 years.

Good riddance!

Original Detroit News article.

Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Executive Guilty Of Illegal Contributions To Walker

"Wild" Bill Gardner charged with two felony counts

April 12th, 2011 – In documents released Tuesday, the Government Accountability Board and the Milwaukee District Attorney accepted a plea of two felony counts in a campaign contribution money laundering case against the W&SRR executive. Bill Gardner will pay a $166,900 forfeiture. The lion's share of contributions went to the Walker election campaign.

Bill wants it his way

Wild Bill has been expanding his tax payer subsidized railroad in Wisconsin for decades. He is well known around here for his abrasive and combative style. When Didion Milling decided to add an ethanol production facility in Cambria back in 2002, Bill had much to gain from shipping the newly produced ethanol. He attended local meetings, advocating loudly and forcefully in favor of the Didion boys' scheme. In fact, he became so enraged at any hint of opposition, he must finally have been asked by supporters not to attend further meetings.

In 2003, Wild Bill emerged as a leading ethanol advocate in my old home town of Horicon when United Co–Op sought zoning changes in order to construct an ethanol plant. His bombastic style was on full display as he huffed and puffed around the hearing room, red–faced and bellowing on behalf of ethanol. At times, I was reminded of a caricature of an old time evangelist and half expected him to commence damning dissenters to perdition at any moment!

It’s clear to me that Bill is a man used to getting his way by whatever means necessary, who isn't about to let mere campaign laws get in his way.

Here is a copy of the G.A.B. board’s press release .

Early Morning Fire at Didion Milling and Ethanol

Call goes out before 7:00 A.M. this morning

December 28th, 2010 – The early morning call went out that there was a dryer fire at the ethanol plant. Firefighters from the Cambria fire department responded to reports of a fire in the Dried Distiller Grains dryer. I’ve since learned that the fire was extinguished fairly quickly, but not before a possible call went out for additional personnel from the Friesland department for backup.

There have been a number of other fires in this dryer beginning back in January of 2010.

Didion Among Nation’s “Dirty Dozen”

Wisconsin recipient of Federal energy stimulus money gets little or no compliance review

November 29th, 2010 – The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism , in collaboration with the national Center for Public Integrity , simultaneously published stories about Federal stimulus fund recipients getting a pass on environmental reviews for their projects. Among the recipients were some of the nation’s more egregious and persistent polluters. The “Dirty Dozen” list includes our very own Didion, Inc., who received almost 6 million dollars doled out by Wisconsin Governor Doyle.

Kate Golden did the work on the Didion case history and gets a well earned credit for her contribution of the Didion story. We all appreciate it and enjoyed our time with her.

Last December, when Gov. Jim Doyle announced $14.5 million in federal stimulus funds for energy–efficiency projects involving nine companies, he called it “a tremendous opportunity to be one of the greenest manufacturing states in the country.” What Doyle did not mention was that ethanol producer Didion Milling Inc., which got the largest share at $5.6 million, is one of Wisconsin’s most chronic air and water polluters — and a firm designated by the federal government as a “high priority violator.”

Read Kate’s report here . This link includes an audio slide show. You may download a PDF version of the Didion story here .

Didion Granted Expansive Permit

More particulates, more pollution

350,000 tons a year of greenhouse gasses for a starter is not green!

October 15th, 2010 — People are already reporting the familiar corn coated vehicles around Cambria as Didion Milling/Ethanol reactivates their massive corn dryer for the first time since the ”emergency“ last fall.

I will post the new permit materials later.

MEA and Citizens Prevail in Clean Water Case

Didion Ethanol to pay for environmental improvements

July 9th, 2010 – Midwest Environmental Advocates and citizens in Cambria and within the Duck Creek watershed announced an agreement settling their Clean Water Act lawsuit against Didion Ethanol. They charged Didion Ethanol with numerous violations of the facility’s WPDES permit and other watershed violations. Congratulations to all of you!

According to Roger Springman, a resident of Wyocena which is within the Duck Creek watershed, “…this settlement holds the facility responsible for its pollution and will bring major benefits for the community.”

Adds Cambria’s own, John Domino, “…This settlement and the DNR’s penalties should send a message to other companies that you can’t pollute, harm a community and just get away with it.”

The full press is release here.


Didion discharges into wetlands again

June 29th, 2010 – by John Mueller for CTD – DNR officials were notified and a warden dispatched once again to Didion Ethanol early Tuesday afternoon as water continued flowing down the hill along Highway 146 and into the wetlands west of the highway. I photographed the scene as DNR Warden Paul Nadolski had a chat with Didion official Dale Drachenberg. I’d received the report shortly after 11:00 a.m. and hiked over to the scene by around 1 o’clock.

I was able to speak with the warden as he left the scene. He'd been told that plant personel were flushing a fire hydrant as part of a routine procedure. However, the discharge is supposed to be held within a retainment pond on the property and the warden found the pond gates unlocked and open. He confirmed to me that only ”100% rainwater“ could be discharged into the wetlands.

Didion had previously been issued two Notices of Violation for illegally discharging into the wetlands in the summer of 2009 for which they payed forfeitures as part of larger civil case, State of Wisconsin vs. Didion Milling Inc et al, earlier this year.

I’ve linked to my photos of Tuesday’s incident on a separate page. (The page will open in a new window or tab)

Civil Complaint Documents

State’s case against Didion

May 16th, 2010 – The civil complaint documents are now available here .

Case Dismissed!

Federal Clean Air Act suit ordered dismissed with prejudice

April 30th, 2010 – Wisconsin Western District Federal Court Judge Barbara Crabb today approved a joint petition by Plaintiffs and Defendants to dismiss Cambrians for Thoughtful Development’s lawsuit charging Didion Milling, Inc. and Didion Ethanol LLC with a multitude of Clean Air Act violations.

The action comes fast on the heels of the judgement entered on April 26th, 2010 in the State Enforcement Action. Didion was ordered to pay over one million dollars in that action. The State action substantially addresses similar charges to those brought in our Federal Court lawsuit.

Plaintiffs and Defendants now must agree on reasonable Plaintiffs’ litigation fees and costs. Although fee negotiations are already under way, the joint petition sets a May 14th deadline for the final agreement.

Some of the documents are on our CTD documents page.

Final Judgement Entered In State of Wisconsin vs. Didion Milling Inc et al

Didion owes the Court $ 1,050,000

April 26th, 2010 – Wood County Circuit Court Judge Gregory Potter entered judgements today against Didion Milling Inc. et al. worth $ 1,050,000. The State’s Case Number 2010CX000002 was originally filed in Columbia Circuit Court on March 26th, 2010 before being transfered to Judge Potter in Wood County. Didion pled guilty no contest to all 23 of the charges as originally filed.

The Wisconsin Circuit Court Access summary available here provides details which include Failure to Obtain Air Pollution Control Construction and Operation Permits, Fail to Comply with NSPS Notification and Testing Requirements, Failure to Maintain Records, False Certification and more.

Resolution of Federal Wastewater Suit Imminent

MEA withdraws motion to intervene in State case

April 15th, 2010 – There are reports that plaintiffs in the Federal Clean Water Act citizen lawsuit against Didion have reached an agreement today. Attorneys with Midwest Environmental Advocates representing the citizens have notified Columbia County Circuit Court that they are withdrawing their Motion To Intervene in the State of Wisconsin v. Didion, Case number 10 CX 000002. This clears the way for a resolution of the outstanding environmental violation charges against Didion.

The Clean Air Act citizens lawsuit in Federal court charging Didion with air pollution violations is still in negotiations toward a settlement.

State Files Suit Against Didion For Environmental Violations

Didion Admits Guilt For Violations, Agrees To Pay In Excess Of 1 Million Dollars

April 2nd, 2010 Update – Prolonged negotiations between the Wisconsin Justice Department, Didion Milling, Inc. and Didion Ethanol, LLC representatives ended Friday March 26th, 2010 when documents were signed and filed in the Columbia County Circuit Court. The documents are currently stalled in Columbia County pending a judge’s final signature.

The matter was initially assigned to Circuit Court Judge Miller who has been unavailable and on vacation this past week. Our understanding is that Didion now requested another judge. Judge Miller’s brother John Miller represented Didion in a recent zoning variance hearing in Columbia County.

The documents, available soon on our Didion Milling web page, include the Complaint with an epic litany of Didion’s long standing environmental violations, some dating back as far back as ten years ago.

March 13th, 2010 Update – In light of Columbia County’s all too predictable approvals of Didion Ethanol’s plans to expand into biodiesel production, I uploaded much of the material from the Planning and Zoning committee which granted a conditional use permit and the Board Of Appeals which granted the needed zoning variance.

Here’s the new biodiesel section of our Didion Milling web page.

Fire Call At Didion Late Monday Night

Cambria Fire Department and EMT crews respond

February 8th, 2010 – Another report of a fire went out tonight in what seems to be an increasingly common call to the village from Didion. Crews were dispatched to Didion Milling sometime around 9:30 tonight on reports of another fire in a dryer. Didion Milling employees gathered in the parking lot near Highway 146 as department personnel checked a building on the west end of the milling facility. The ambulance and other fire equipment stood by further back from the scene. By 10:00 P.M. or so reports came out that the situation was under control and fire personnel were checking for hot spots.

This was not the same dryer as the large corn dryer involved in the January 8th fire earlier this year.

Didion Receives First NOV of 2010

Exceeded particulate matter levels in November 2009 stack test

January 25th, 2010 – Subject: Notice of Violation Based on the failed stack test and Didion’s own records the PM levels were exceeded from at least October 10th, 2009 through November 5th, 2009.

The testing is connected with the recently permitted hammermills at the ethanol plant. The hammermills were the subject of an earlier violation notice in March of 2008 when Didion built three new hammermills without the required construction permit.

According to a conversation with DNR personnel today, February 2nd, 2010, the results of the subsequent stack test are now completed and it would appear that the stack is in compliance for now.

Please respond by February 12, 2010 with an explanation of the circumstances that led to the emission limit violation, corrective actions that have been taken, and what Didion will do to ensure future compliance.
…the alleged violations meet federal criteria for designation as High Priority Violations (HPV).
…the Department is authorized to seek forfeitures of up to $25,000 per violation per day…

Emergency Crews Respond to Fire Call From Didion Ethanol Sunday Afternoon

Few details forthcoming

January 16th, 2010 – A fire call went out from Didion Ethanol late this afternoon. The Cambria fire and ambulance service responded with an ambulance and the small pumper engine. They were joined soon after by another ambulance from Pardeeville. Emergency crews stood by at a safe distance and remained for several hours. Didion personnel arrived and entered the ethanol plant building nearest Highway 146.

WKOW–TV in Madison reported that The Columbia County sheriff had no comment and a Cambria Fire Department spokesman would only confirm a fire had taken place. A fire in the large corn dryer at the milling facility occurred less than two weeks previously.

Ambulance Crew Called To Didion

Employee falls and lands on concrete floor

January 14th, 2010 – The Cambria EMTs responded to a call from Didion this afternoon after an employee fell and landed on a concrete floor. Reportedly, the man had fallen 10-12 feet and was still on the floor at Didion Ethanol when crews arrived. Although Medflight was considered, weather conditions kept the helicopter grounded while a life support unit from Beaver Dam conveyed the injured man to the University Hospital in Madison. He is reported to be in a coma.

His condition at the time of this writing is unknown.

Cambria Fire Department Responds to Fire at Didion

Fire confined to milling facility

January 8th, 2010 – The Cambria Fire Department was called to Didion once again Friday night when a fire broke out in the large corn dryer at the milling plant. The fire was confined to the milling side of the operation and did not involve the ethanol facility across Cabbage Road from the mill. The call came in around 8:45 P.M. and first responders were dispatched. The Cambria department was soon joined by the Friesland department.

Columbia County Sheriff’s Department officials closed the section of Highway 146 running past the plant for several hours as fire officials informed the Cambria/Friesland Schools where the basketball game was just concluding. An announcement was made asking everyone to evacuate the school grounds. (Randolph won in the closing minutes of the game.)

The fire was finally extinguished when the still smoldering corn was removed from the dryer. Fire Department personnel left the scene shortly after midnight. There have been other fires at the plant including one in the thermal oxidizer at the ethanol facility on September 14th this past year.

Although at Didion’s request the current air permit specifically excludes operating the corn dryer as they struggle to remain under pollution limits required by the Federal Clean Air Act, in November 2009 Didion was issued a temporary emergency waiver in order to deal with a surplus of wet, late season corn. People have long complained about the dust produced by the dryer. The dryer repeatedly failed required stack tests which demonstrated it was impossible to operate the dryer within limits agreed upon in Didion’s past air permits.

Cambrians for Thoughtful Development is currently suing Didion for enforcement of violations under citizen provisions in the Clean Air Act.

Corn Truck Spill At Didion Milling and Ethanol

November 25th, 2009 by John Mueller of CTD

Corn truck spills contents at Didion Ethanol in Cambria, WI

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009 - by John Mueller of CTD - A truck laden with corn ran off off the road when it's air brakes failed sometime after noon on Wednesday. The truck was negotiating the curve and steep hill on Highway 146 as it approached the Didion Milling and Ethanol facilities from the south.

According to an eyewitness report, the driver was not speeding at the time of the accident. Authorities including Lori Kratz, one of Cambria's first responders on the scene, report that the driver was not seriously hurt.

Kernels of whole corn spilled from the truck into the stormwater retention pond on the Didion Ethanol property. Some of the kernels could be seen in the Duck Creek tributary which flows from the Didion property, under the highway and into the wetlands to the west. Diking materials employed after the spill slowed the water flowing to the west of the road from the culvert under highway 146.

Ditches along the highway in front of the Didion Milling facility had a distinct yellow coloring.

The retention pond, tributary and wetlands to the west were affected earlier this summer in two separate spills at the ethanol plant. One spill was the release of over 43,000 gallons of corn mash, with a second spill of about 5,000 gallons of a dilute caustic sodium hydroxide solution a little over a month later. Both of the earlier spills caused significant environmental damage and were the subject of an August 21st WDNR Notice of Violation.

(Please note: Reports of a pre-Thanksgiving, all you can shovel creamed corn sale at Didion were determined to be satirical and prejudicial in nature.)

October 27th, 2009 Notice of Violation

DNR now alleging violations of required emissions testing and emissions

Didion’s latest notice alleges they exceeded the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) limit set in their construction permit 06-DCF-166. The plant was out of compliance for a total of 461 days of operation. Each day is considered a separate violation, with fines of up to $25,000 a day

The Department of Natural Resources also allege that Didion failed to perform required stack emissions tests within the required 180 days of initial operation of the ethanol plant. This timeframe is stated in their construction permit. Each day is considered a separate violation.

Here is a copy of the October 27th Notice Of Violation .

Politics Steer Important Enforcement Efforts At DNR

Former DNR secretary Hassett forced out by Doyle

Sunday, October 25th, 2009 — According to an article in Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal, politics plays a major role in enforcement decisions at the DNR. Read Sunday’s article by Dee J. Hall here: Was DNR secretary forced out by Doyle?

Fire code violations at Didion Ethanol plant

October 14th, 2009 by John Mueller of CTD

According to a report presented to the Village board by Cambria fire chief Vance Haney at the Monday, October 12th Village of Cambria monthly board meeting, Didion Ethanol is in violation of local and State fire codes. Chief Haney detailed the situation, which was created when Didion constructed a three foot high poured concrete wall surrounding their ethanol plant south of Cabbage Road. Didion was given a deadline as early as this Friday, October 16th to correct the situation.

The fire code violations block mandated access to emergency responders. In addition, the wall blocks unimpeded access to vital hydrants and related valves and equipment. Clearly delineated and maintained fire lanes may also be a concern. OSHA is believed to be involved in a similar investigation.

The wall, believed to be in response to permit violations for two major spills this past summer, is intended to contain future spills. A postcard mailed by Didion Milling in late March of 2003 detailed such a dike system in an effort to influence an upcoming referendum question on the April ballot that year. Residents voted against approving an ethanol plant in a 60/40 split.

The dike system was again floated during Didion’s second and successful attempt in 2006 to obtain the needed permits. The dike system was never implemented.

The Didion Ethanol plant began construction in early 2007, after a long and bitter battle between Village officials and residents to keep the plant out of the Village and well beyond Village borders. The plant is now sited in Courtland Township, scant feet beyond Village limits.

Fire at Didion Ethanol

September 14th, 2009 – A fire call went out from the Didion Ethanol plant around 1:00 P.M. when fire erupted in the thermal oxidizer.

Both Cambria and Randolph fire departments responded to the blaze which held the potential at least, to turn into a much larger disaster. Due to the unusually small building site on Cabbage Road, the huge bulk ethanol and gasoline storage tanks are located very near to both the thermal oxidizer and the distiller's grains dryer. Both pieces of equipment are perhaps, the most commonly reported sources of fire incidents in the ethanol industry. The nearby tanks contain millions of gallons of flammable liquid.

The fire reportedly smoldered from 1:00 P.M. until 2:15 P.M. while responders stood by until it was determined that there was no longer a threat of the fire re-igniting.

Between 1:15–1:30 P.M. I walked down to Commerce Street to a vantage point west of the facility where I could clearly see black smoke coming from the thermal oxidizer and blowing slowly southward.

An eye witness in the nearby Cambria/Friesland High School reports that an announcement came over the public address system around 2:00 P.M., saying only that there was a safety concern and that students and teachers were to remain in their rooms until further notice. No details were given and teachers were not contacted individually with more detailed information. Fearing the worst, a handful of students became visibly upset, some crying and showing other signs of high anxiety.

The lock-down continued until around 2:30 P.M. No further details were given when teachers inquired in the school office.

August 21st, 2009 Notice of Violation

Notice alleges recent spills in violation of wastewater permit

August 21st, 2009 – This new notice details violations and some of the environmental consequences in the aftermath of the June 4th mash spill and the July 26th sodium hydroxide spill at Didion Ethanol.

“Bonestroo, Didion’s consultant, estimates a volume of approximately 7600 cu ft (6") of waste material was removed from the mash plume in the wetland during the initial cleanup effort. However, Bonestroo also estimates that considerable mash solids will remain in the wetland with additional potential impacts to the North Branch of Duck Creek and its tributary.”

Didion Ethanol Chemical Spill

3 days later

Ditch near SW corner of Didion Ethanol plant

A public service reminder: Never water your lawns and trees with a 3%–5% solution of sodium hydroxide and water.

More photographs made three days after the chemical spill. (Opens in new tab or window.)

Didion Issued New Notice Of Violation

DNR details over 1500 separate violations

July 28th, 2009 – This latest Notice of Violation alleges over 1500 separate instances where Didion failed to operate both their milling and ethanol operation within permitted limits. The DNR can seek forfeitures of up to $25,000 per violation, per day.

According to the notice, Didion repeatedly failed to operate equipment within permitted parameters. Didion failed to perform basic compliance testing of certain equipment within the 180 day period specified in their construction permits. Didion also failed to maintain required logs and records in certain instances.

Demanding compliance with all of the permit conditions and requirements is the only way to ensure Didion is not releasing excessive amounts of harmful pollutants into our air and water.

Here is our CTD press release regarding Didion’s latest violation notice .

Updated: Another Spill At Didion Ethanol

Corrosive chemical released near wetlands

July 27th, 2009 – According to a draft DNR Substance Release Notification Report ( SERTS ,) about 5,000 gallons of a 3%–5% solution of sodium hydroxide was released yesterday due to a “BLOWN/FAILED GASKET FROM DILUTE CAUSTIC TANK TO FERMENTATION TANK AT DIDION ETHANOL FACILITY.” An unknown quantity of the solution was released into the adjacent wetlands and the unnamed tributary to Duck Creek.

A Level A/Level B Team notification was issued by local emergency responders and a B Level HAZMAT team from Portage was dispatched to the scene of the spill.

Another Spill At Didion Ethanol

Corrosive chemical released near wetlands

July 26th, 2009 – Cambria emergency crews were dispatched shortly before noon today to a chemical spill at the Didion Ethanol plant. Incredibly, the spill occurred in the same area of the plant where, a month earlier, over 43,000 gallons of fermenting corn mash spilled from an unsecured hatch and poured into the wetlands to the west.

Between 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of a sodium hydroxide solution were released in today’s spill, according to a preliminary report from an independent videographer on the scene, David Casper of Pardeeville. It is unknown at this time if the corrosive chemical was completely contained before it could reach the wetlands.

Sodium hydroxide, or caustic lye, is highly alkaline and is commonly used as a cheap industrial buffering agent.

Here's an excerpt from a 2003 postcard Didion mailed out ahead of the April election, asking Cambria to support them on an upcoming referendum question. 60% of Cambria’s voters subsequently voted “NO” against supporting Didion’s plans for an ethanol plant in Cambria:

Q: What if chemicals spill or leak?
A: The facility is designed to prevent major spills. For instance, the plant’s buildings will be connected by an underground duct system. Any chemical spill will flow to a central duct, and the contents will be pumped into a storage container. From there, the chemical will be pumped back into the ethanol processing system and reused. If ethanol is spilled while loading, the spill will drain into a sump and then will be pumped back into the plant for reprocessing. The ethanol storage area is designed with a series of dikes and berms to contain spills.

Updated CTD Timeline

Milestones both large and small

I've updated the CTD timeline for those who are curious about the sequence of events leading up to the present.

An Entirely Predictable (And Predicted!) Occurrence

Didion Ethanol’s written report of the June 4th, 2009 corn mash spill

Didion Ethanol’s written report to the WDNR of the June 4th, 2009 corn mash spill is short on details and mainly serves to raise the question as to why the mechanisms touted to prevent future spills aren’t already in place.

Missing are details of the (we hope!) extensive testing ordered in the aftermath of the spill to monitor the wetlands flooded by the river of spilled mash. Missing are details of the extent of the damage done to the existing plant and animal life in the marsh. The week following the spill, we personally witnessed the abundance of certain species indicative of oxygen depleted, low quality water in the wetland. We have no idea, based on this report, whether or not any recovery is in progress.

Item 4 of the proposed prevention plan claims, “Didion is exploring the installation of additional diking that would provide containment for all three fermentation tanks and the beer well," and promises a decision, "…will be made …no later than July 31st, 2009."

Didion’s original plans, as sold to both the Village of Cambria and Columbia County during the permitting stages, were that the entire plant would be enclosed within a dike system. This assertion effectively shut down any discussion of concerns raised about just the sort of disastrous spill we saw take place in the early morning hours on June 4th.

It remains to be seen which, if any, enforcement actions will be taken by WDNR in light of this major industrial spill.

Read Didion’s report here.

September 19th, 2008

Updated complaint form

Dallas has updated his complaint form to include the latest contact information. You may download the form from our CTD documents page

The fish and foul are ailing
The farmer’s life is failing
Where are all the backroom boys
The backroom boys can’t save us now
We’re poisoned by the greedy
Who plunder on the needy
Leave the factory, leave the forge
Dance to the new St. George
-- Richard Thompson, "The New St. George*"